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Islamist & Western Morality Fundamentally Different

Reader comment on item: Post-Mortem on the Muhammad Protests

Submitted by JM Miller (United States), Oct 2, 2012 at 13:44

Jonathan Haidt (Moral Foundations theory; see eg, the Righteous Mind, 2012) provides a lens through which many intractable conflicts are understandable, if not soluble.

Haidt makes a compelling argument that moral sensibility in most world cultures has dimensions that hardly appear on Liberal Western radar, and where they do they're negatively valued. For most people, eg, the world is filled with things and ideas that are inviolably holy and others that are dangerously unclean. Haidt believes that these moral intuitions are psychologically prior to, and much more powerful than rational argument.

If this is correct, then as Pipes has suggested, aside from all the self-interested provocation and hotheaded rage, there are important elements of deeply-felt offense, so that (in our terms) we're dealing with a sort of culturally-supported phobia, that needs to be treated differently than something with only political and social dimensions.

Apart from a few caveats that all moral systems might not be equally valuable, the power of Haidt's descriptive analysis (and his claim to have grown past his own Left-Liberal roots) are betrayed by his insistence that "morality binds and blinds", that it is not possible to truly understand alien moral intuitions, so we just have to accept them and try to get along with one another. This position, however, tends to be suicidal when you're facing a culture that considers your existence to be morally unacceptable.

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